New Census Bureau data show that Washington, D.C., is the wealthiest metropolitan area in America. This is nothing to be proud of.
The report shows that the National Capital Region edged out Silicon Valley to become the most affluent U.S. metropolitan areas. The typical Washington metro household earned $84,523 in 2010, compared to a national median income of $50,046. Income in the D.C. area registered a 0.8 percent drop, but that didn’t faze government bureaucrats, who kept getting automatic raises. For federal workers, total compensation with benefits jumped 3 percent in 2010 to an incredible $126,369. A separate study showed that nationwide, inflation-adjusted median household income fell 6.7 percent between June 2009 and June 2011. Figures like this feed the perception that government personnel are no longer public servants but a self-serving, privileged class.
Other metrics show that good times are rolling inside the Beltway. Unemployment in the D.C. area in August 2011 was 6.1 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This isn’t the lowest rate in the country, an honor that goes to oil-booming Bismarck, N.D., at 3 percent. However, Washington’s rate is the best in the 10 largest U.S. metropolitan areas and far below the national unemployment rate of 9.1 percent.
Millions of Americans are suffering with home-mortgage problems, but there is no housing crisis in Washington. The Zillow index shows home values went up 2.9 percent in the District in the past year, while nationwide the average home value declined 4.5 percent. The average Washington home is worth more than twice the national average and even more than homes in the New York City metropolitan area.
The image of Washingtonians prospering while the rest of the country falters sends a troubling message. There is no reason for this city’s outsized prosperity other than government. Washington has no important manufacturing base, it isn’t a trade hub, and its agriculture is composed of weekend farmers markets. Washington exists to collect and redistribute national income and make the country’s rules. When such an area becomes the wealthiest in the country, there is a problem.
Public regard for national political institutions is at a low ebb. Government is understood to be gridlocked, broken and under the sway of special interests. Politicians are seen as isolated, out of touch and tone-deaf to the concerns of the suffering mass of people. Across the political spectrum, confidence in the future is low and frustration is rising.
Americans are anxious for some signs that Washington policymakers understand their fears and the scope of the problems facing the country. In a time of austerity, we call for shared sacrifice. In an era of increasing division, Americans want more teamwork. As we watch the American dream wither, the people want public-spirited leadership that will put the Land of the Free back on the road to prosperity.
Instead, Washington, D.C., takes care of itself like late imperial Rome looting its provinces. It’s no wonder the barbarians are getting restless.